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The high costs of immigration enforcement

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The high costs of immigration enforcement

  • Protesters oppose a Utah immigration bill in 2010.
    rprathap/FlickrProtesters oppose a Utah immigration bill in 2010.

A handful of communities across the country have attempted to and in many cases successfully enacted a series of immigration controls that stoke fear in Latino and immigrant communities. But a report from the Center for American Progress found that these communities spend millions of dollars defending these unconstitutional statutes in court. This drains strained budgets, depresses local economies, and divides communities along racial and ethnic lines.

A combination of factors have left immigrants as vulnerable scapegoats and spurred several communities to take federal immigration law into their own hands, including the fallout from the economic crisis and ensuing unemployment rates as well as inaction at the federal level on immigration reform.

The report makes clear that these local enforcement measures come with substantial costs that quickly add up. Arizona will see a loss of $388 million in economic output due to lost conferences and business meetings over the next two to three years due to its immigration law, SB 1070. The state is expected to lose $133 million in lost wages over the next two to three years due to the law. Farmers Branch, Texas has incurred more than $4 million since 2006 in legal fees to defend its anti-immigration statute, and Hazelton, Pennsylvania has spent $2.8 million defending its immigration control ordinance.

“Measures like these will bust your bank account,” said Angela Kelley, Vice President for Immigration Policy and Advocacy at CAP, in a press call in January. “Jurisdictions will spend substantial sums of money to pursue proposals that are in most cases going to lose in the courts.”

What’s more, local immigration enforcement measures can cause an exodus of immigrants from the town, which leads to loss of business and lost tax revenues. “When the buying power leaves the community and the small businesses lose that buying power and consumers, they close and the home foreclosures become exacerbated,” said Prince William County, Virginia supervisor Frank Principi during the press call with Kelley, explaining the effects of a local ordinance Prince William adopted in 2007.

But that’s not all. Local immigration measures also have heavy social costs. Laws that target immigrants create deep racial divisions within communities that can take many years to overcome. Tomball, Texas shelved a proposal to make English the official language due to the divisions such a measure would create.

A recent report from the Southern Poverty Law Center, or SPLC, explains that these anti-immigrant ordinances have roots in the Nativist Movement. Prominent nativist organizations such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which the SPLC designates as a hate group, and well-known nativist Kris Kobach, the current Kansas secretary of state and architect of Arizona’s SB 1070, are the brains behind many of the laws.

Communities like Tomball, Texas and Prince William County, Virginia have realized the financial and social damage done by such ordinances and have scratched plans to implement them. Other communities considering taking immigration enforcement into their own hands should take note. The real solution to our broken immigration system lies in the hands of Congress and not with state and local governments.

This article was published by the Center for American Progress.

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